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The Bookbag: "It's a bright window onto a corner of the world's history and literature that's well worth looking through."

Date: Aug 9 2012

Chile, the modern day. Four elderly men meet for one last time, planning something suspiciously underhand, having made arrangements - and discussed Internet dating - online. We're let into the fact that the grandfather of one was a bank robber in a classic tale of Robin Hood-style wealth distribution, but as to what the outcome of their plans might be we're forced to wait. Elsewhere a domestic incident leads to a bizarre death - by record player. And you can just tell I'm suggesting you wait to discover the link...

The unusual history of Chile is all over this short novel, but in actually not too off-putting a way. It's a country that had its own 9/11 long before the USA, and a dictator in Pinochet that caused no end of problems. Our protagonists have lived through it all, as Communist activists, before emigrating to other socialist countries, then returning more recently in retirement.

Inasmuch as I can see Chileans and those who know the country well will get a little more out of this than I, there aren't major problems for the layman. Luis Sepulveda drops too many long names - of people and books - to colour history and detail in, but this isn't as complex or impenetrable as some have implied elsewhere. I also thought the comedy dropped off a little, to my ignorant eye, but with a priceless simile regarding a butcher's contents there is enough quality to make the book open to many.

In the end it's a quirky little piece, and it works as a taster for Sepulveda - I'm left wanting more. It is, as I've said on this site before, the kind of book I'd prefer to try from a major author as opposed to their magnum opus, but it's no small fry - packing in an unusual cop, a Communist who fell in love with Hollywood, and more comedic twists than larger words often provide. It's a bright window onto a corner of the world's history and literature that's well worth looking through.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For a look at the Chilean expat life elsewhere, we enjoyed The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende. Oddly, the feel of this title, with its police procedural popping up into a different book made me remember Bed of Nails by Antonin Varenne.

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